Tuesday, February 17, 2009

dreams of green youth

Some time back, Instapundit was pushing a book called "Old Man's War" by John Scalzi. I'm not the type to take reading advice from law professors, but a law professor who also writes for Popular Mechanics might know something about science fiction, so when I ran across the book in my local bookstore, I picked it up.

The first few chapters were surprisingly good, considering that there was no action. It was all about some old farts from earth who signed up to go fight aliens on other planets. Earth is kept isolated from the rest of the galaxy, so no one on earth knows exactly how all of these old people are going to be used to fight the aliens, but they all assume that they will get some kind of youthening treatment unknown on earth. Of course, the chance for a second youth is the main motivation for signing up. Part of the reason that the early part of the book is so good is the tension that is built up over what is really going to happen to all of these nice elderly people. Are their dreams going to come true or are they really being carted off to become alien lunch meat? BWAH HAH HAH HAH. Etc.

Unfortunately, the solving of the mystery doesn't live up to the masterful way it was built up, and the later part of the book is a pretty typical marines-in-space opera. Don't get me wrong --I like marines-in-space operas, and Old Man's War was a pretty decent example of the breed, but I felt a little let down after the very untypical beginning. First, the mystery was pretty non-unexpected and second, there was almost nothing to distinguish these 80-year-old youthened recruits from fresh high-school grads. That is, there was no particular sign of wisdom or knowledge gained from long years of life. Or for that matter, no indication of liabilities that long years of life might give you as a soldier, like the fact that you are no longer some dumb kid who thinks that he can't die.

ALso, I thought the world was implausible in several respects. Without going too deep into spoilers, I think I can say that the universe was supposed to be extremely dangerous, with no human colony being particularly safe from alien invasion --except earth which was so safe that they didn't even have space marines stationed there. And the galaxy was so dangerous that they had to give their marines special abilities to battle the aliens, they took those abilities away when the marines retired to become colonists. If life is really so dangerous, wouldn't they want a militia of retired super-soldiers around to help out in case of the surprise invasions that keep happening in the books?

There were other things, but I can't really discuss them without spoilers, so I'll take a deep breath and let it go.

Well, I'm not exactly raving about the book, but if you know me I don't rave about anything except food and people who cut me off in traffic. It's a pretty good book and if you are looking for something to kill a Saturday, you could do a lot worse. In fact, I picked up the next book in the series for the next weekend. It was like the first one only without the unusual beginning.

UPDATE: oh, I forgot to explain the title of this blog post. See, when these old dudes get changed into super soldiers, they are youthful and green. Get it?

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